As the presenter of a controversial motion at General Synod I want to explain the reasons for it. The motion, seconded by Rev. Dennis Drainville of Quebec states, “that this General Synod affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships.” The motion was passed.
We presented our motion to complement the motions on the blessing of same-sex relationships presented by the Council of General Synod which were essentially about jurisdiction (who can decide?) and process (how can we discuss this civilly?). General Synod decided to defer any decision on jurisdiction until General Synod 2007. But members of synod clearly wanted our amendment brought on the floor for discussion. And members of synod did not want it amended removing the word “sanctity.”
Some see this decision by General Synod as contradictory to the earlier motions. From my perspective, however, it was not. As I read it, General Synod wanted to affirm the moral integrity and full membership of gay people in the church and at the same time, not force a decision on some parts of the church about how such an affirmation might be expressed liturgically (blessing or marriage). If there is one thing that the experience of General Synod makes clear, it is the vast diversity of concerns and priorities within the church from one place to another in this country.
In presenting the motion I indicated that my intention was a pastoral one. The motion invited the church to give a word of encouragement to gay and lesbian members in committed relationships. Clearly, some church members will never want to do this and regard any moral approval of same-sex relationships as contrary to church teachings. For such persons offering a pastoral concern which requires anything other than repentance is not acceptable. I do not hold such a position and based on the support for the motion, neither do most members of General Synod.
The question many people are asking is, “What does sanctity mean?” And does it not logically force the church into authorizing the blessing for same-sex couples? My theological convictions, which I believe are consistent with a wide body of Anglican/Christian teaching, enable me to say that God’s sanctifying work is not the sole possession of the Christian church. The sanctifying work of the spirit of God is surely present in other faith traditions and maybe even outside of faith traditions. Therefore a person or relationship can be sanctified with and without the specific acknowledgement of the church (as in a blessing).
As I read Scripture, sanctification is God’s will for all. We become sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit within us as it purifies us and turns us more and more in love toward God and neighbour. For example, 1 Thessalonians provides advice about behaviours which enable this sanctifying work to go ahead. We are advised to control our natural appetites and to develop right relationships with others. At some point along this road toward sanctification the church, in some cases, provides for rites of recognition of sanctification. For example, the church blesses (invoking God’s favour on and support of) persons at baptism and confirmation. After a long period of preparation and discernment the church blesses a person taking their vows to become a monk or a nun, and a priest is blessed at ordination. These blessings acknowledge a sanctification, which the church has discerned to exist already, and which the community affirms to be authentic. In marriage partners bring to one another love and commitment. The marriage blessing does not sanctify the couple’s covenant, it confirms the existing sanctification.
Gay or straight couples do not need the church to tell them they are blessed but many do want the church to acknowledge that their committed relationships are wholesome and that God’s work of sanctification is enabled by that relationship.
Yes, by affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed adult, same-sex relationships General Synod acknowledges that these relationships, like many others, have the potential to reflect God’s will (sanctification).
No, this motion does not co-opt any future decision by any level of jurisdiction within the Anglican Church of Canada as to how, if ever, it will acknowledge this by a rite of blessing.
General Synod has affirmed that it is possible for relationships to be sanctified even if they are not blessed. I believe it has acted wisely and within the Christian tradition as we have received it.
Canon Garth Bulmer
Church of St. John the Evangelist